Meaningful Patient Engagement

Patients, with more choices and more of their own money at stake, are demanding a more customer-friendly experience, and payers are rewarding providers for keeping patients satisfied. Plus, more satisfied patients are going to be more engaged in their care and for that reason more likely to be healthier. Improving the patient experience can also help healthcare organizations improve their financial performance by strengthening customer loyalty, building reputation and brand, and boosting utilization of services through increased referrals to family and friends.

Patient experience scores pertaining to doctors’ and nurses’ communication skills seem to be especially important. It's common sense that a highly engaged staff is essential for great patient and family communication. 

Customer experience and employee engagement are inextricably linked. Happy employees are more likely to be helpful with customers, and most employees want to be happy in their jobs. Every employee would love to get up every morning and feel like they want to go to work -- our job as leaders is to create an environment that allows that to happen. Unfortunately, many healthcare businesses are not run that way.

Here are 7 ways to think about meaningful patient engagement:

1. Patient engagement isn’t incompatible with medical outcomes.  Done right, the work you do on improving the patient experience, will also contribute to improving outcomes. This should be obvious, but our ingrained notion of "zero-sum" gets in the way of seeing this clearly. A scheduling system that is prompt and makes sense, physicians involving the patient and family in a treatment plan, thoughtful follow - these all contribute to, rather than get in the way of, improved outcomes.  It’s a no-brainer.

2. Improving the patient experience is about systems.  Processes and technologies used within the delivery of healthcare services can have significant impact on the patient's experience. Getting scheduled and the registration process, if poorly managed, can create a negative pre-disposition before the patient even interacts with the practitioner. A follow-up patient bill with errors can destroy a great service experience and leave the patient with a lasting negative impression.

3. Improving the patient experience is about attitude.  The processes you put in place that work for most of your patients will not work for all your patients in all situations.  And when a patient doesn’t fit into your system, or a patient’s circumstances don’t fit into your list of expected scenarios, you need helpful, empathetic employees, administrators, managers, executives who will address what needs to be done (including simply delivering an apology). Saying "I can’t help you" is unacceptable; “Absolutely: let me get you to the person who can take care of that” can work wonders.

4. Indifference is everywhere. Passive indifference - in many settings - is almost the norm. For example: healthcare professionals avoiding eye contact, physicians hurrying self-importantly down the halls, patients ignored by nurses who haven’t yet clocked in - all these destroy the experience. Our job is to identify and eliminate apathy and indifference. 

5. Automate in areas where consumers expect it. Patients don’t like seeing wasted time, inefficiency, and typos any more than you do. While human beings are important in healthcare, there are some tasks that automation and self-service does better.  Filling out patient-related forms is one of these. Your patients and their families have a lot of positive experience these days with efficient online and mobile-based models, and it makes them impatient with inefficiency and duplicate processes.  Especially in healthcare.

6. A great customer experience must be delivered on the customer’s schedule.  Your quest for speed cannot become a quest to hurry patients. Doing that it going to lead to frustration and, ultimately, noncompliance and other outcome problems. Your quest for efficiency can often be at odds with your quest to improve the customer experience, if you don’t realize that there is value in being inefficient when it comes to that untidy link in the chain: the patient.

7. Learn by experiencing your organization as your patients do.  Park where the patients do.  See how easy it is or isn’t to register. Wait in your own lobby.  Try your intake process, your scheduling system.  Get one of your bills in the mail - and read it through the eyes of your customer.  You'll discover many ways to enhance the customer experience.